On the Radio: Iowa scientists connect state water quality issues to climate change


Morning fog rises off of Lake MacBride near Solon, IA. The lake reported a massive fish kill due in part to blue-green algae earlier this year. (KC McGinnis / for CGRER)
Morning fog rises off of Lake MacBride near Solon, IA. The lake reported a massive fish kill due in part to blue-green algae earlier this year. (KC McGinnis / for CGRER)
October 20, 2014

This week’s On the Radio segment looks at highlights from the Iowa Climate Statement 2014: Impacts on the Health of Iowans, released Friday, October 10. Listen to the audio below, or continue reading for the transcript.

Transcript: Climate Statement 2

Climate change causes extreme weather, increased flooding and resulting water pollution, which is threatening the health of Iowans.

This is the Iowa Environmental Focus.

The Iowa Climate Statement 2014: Impacts on the Health of Iowans, released in October, examined how repeated heavy rains and the resulting flooding have led to increased exposure to toxic chemicals and raw sewage, which can have negative effects on health for humans and animals.

The fourth annual statement was signed by 180 scientists and researchers from 38 colleges and universities across Iowa.

Heavy rains in agricultural areas causes phosphorus and nitrates to run off fields and into waterways. These polluted waterways coupled with increased water temperature have spurred algal blooms on still bodies of water during peak summer heats. These algal blooms make the water unsafe for human or animal consumption or recreation.

For more information about the Iowa Climate Statement 2014, visit IowaEnvironmentalFocus.org.

From the UI Center for Global and Regional Environmental Research, I’m Jerry Schnoor.

 

On the Radio: Groundbreaking study examines changes in Iowa waterways


A stream in Story County, Iowa. (Carl Wycoff/Flickr)
A stream in Story County, Iowa. (Carl Wycoff/Flickr)

This week’s On the Radio segment looks at a new University of Iowa study on the effects of climate and land use changes on Iowa waterways, using data recorded over the course of more than eight decades. Listen to the audio below, or continue reading for the transcript.

 

Transcript: River and Stream Study

Changes in climate and agricultural practice over the last century have had a significant impact on the flow of Iowa’s rivers and streams, according to a recent study.

This is the Iowa Environmental Focus.

Using data recorded over the course of more than eight decades, researchers at the University of Iowa IIHR – Hydroscience & Engineering studied the effects of variable climate conditions and land use on Iowa’s Raccoon River watershed, which has been monitored almost daily since 1927.

The number of acres used to grow corn and soybeans roughly doubled over the last 100 years. The study found that these climate and land use changes exacerbate the effects of both high and low precipitation periods on river and stream levels by as much as seven times, increasing the likelihood of disastrous floods during wet seasons and empty waterways during dry seasons.

For more information about climate, land use and river levels, visit IowaEnvironmentalFocus.org.

From the UI Center for Global and Regional Environmental Research, I’m Jerry Schnoor.

http://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S0167880914001200

http://now.uiowa.edu/2014/04/researchers-find-changes-agriculture-increase-high-river-flow-rates

Iowa agriculture groups back water quality alliance


Standing water in an Iowa field during the summer of 2014 (Carl Wycoff/Flickr)

Standing water in an Iowa field during the summer of 2014 (Carl Wycoff/Flickr)

KC McGinnis | October 1, 2014

A recently launched nonprofit organization backed by three of Iowa’s largest agricultural groups hopes it can help Iowa farmers protect water quality.

Funded by the Iowa Corn Growers Association, Iowa Soybean Association and Iowa Pork Producers Association, the Iowa Agriculture Water Alliance (IAWA) was launched in late August to assist Iowa farmers in implementing the Iowa Nutrient Reduction Strategy. The strategy, developed after a request from U.S. Environmental Protection Agency in 2008, is an initiative by farmers, scientists and water treatment plants to reduce the amount of nitrate and phosphorus being released into Iowa waterways. Most of these nutrients are released from farms and other agricultural producers, and can cause significant problems for habitats all the way to the Gulf of Mexico.

The IAWA intends to work with researchers and agriculture stakeholders to increase understanding of nutrient reduction methods. It stresses continued flexibility for farmers, who are encouraged but not mandated to implement the elements of the Iowa Nutrient Reduction Strategy.

A recent report, however, casts doubt on the effectiveness of this voluntary approach for agricultural producers, who contribute the vast majority of phosphorus and nitrate to Iowa waterways. This could be because of a lack of awareness or understanding of the program. Last year, only half of Iowa farmers surveyed who were aware of the Nutrient Reduction Strategy chose to participate, and about a third were unaware of the program altogether.

Dubuque and other communities improve infrastructure for future natural disasters


Nick Fetty | September 8, 2014
Following the Flood of 1965 (pictured) the city erected a floodwall. (Wikimedia)
Following the Flood of 1965 (pictured) the city of Dubuque erected a floodwall. (Wikimedia)

Heavy rains and flash flooding has caused Dubuque to be declared a presidential disaster area on six different occasions in the last 16 years and climate change is expected to continue contributing to these problems. Dubuque and other cities across the country are attempting to be better prepared for future disastrous events through more efficient infrastructure, however local governments have been struggling to fund these projects.

Dubuque’s Bee Branch Watershed Flood Mitigation Project aims to protect part of the “city’s most developed areas where over 50% of Dubuque residents either live or work.” The $179 million project is divided into 12 phases and is expected to begin as early as fall 2015 and be completed by 2016.  The Iowa Flood Mitigation Board awarded the city of Dubuque $98.5 million for the project in December 2013. The money was awarded in the form of state sales tax increment financing which will be spread across 20 years. The City has raised an additional $30 million but still needs nearly $50 million more to cover the entire cost of the project.

The project will both reduce the volume and slow the rate of stormwater in the upper watershed, provide safer conveyance of stormwater in flood-conducive areas, and protect the City’s wastewater treatment plant from stormwater. Additionally, the project will expand upon the area’s trail system and connect Dubuque with East Dubuque on the Wisconsin side.

Aspects of climate change have contributed to natural disasters from California to Florida to New York. Along with Dubuque, local governments in Norfolk (Virginia), Miami Beach (Florida), and New York City have also built infrastructure designed to withstand natural disasters in those regions.

Endangered mussel may be making a comeback in the Iowa River


The Higgins' eye pearlymussel, an endangered species which was found in the Iowa River during this year's Mussel Blitz. (USFWSmidwest/Flickr)
The Higgins’ eye pearlymussel, an endangered species which was found in the Iowa River during this year’s Mussel Blitz. (USFWSmidwest/Flickr)

After a week of scouring along the Iowa River, researchers and volunteers from the Iowa Department of Natural Resources made promising findings regarding Iowa River’s mussel population, a critical indicator of the waterway’s aquatic health.

The experts found 20 different species during the 2014 Mussel Blitz, an annual research project to assess the health and diversity of Iowa’s mussels. Among them was the Higgins’ eye pearlymussel, an endangered species which was reintroduced to the river in 2003 by stocking fish with young specimens, at the time just the size of a grain of salt. Researchers found six adult Higgins’ eyes in the Iowa River during the Mussel Blitz, indicating that the species was able to mature in the waterway.

While mussels thrived in Iowa waterways for centuries, most have faced heavy setbacks due to damming, fluctuations in water levels and chemicals in the water. 43% of North America’s 300 mussel species are in danger of extinction, including 78 endangered or threatened species in the Midwest.

Since their primary threats are sedimentation and pollutants, mussels are important to Iowa’s waterways as indicators of aquatic health. Reproducing populations of mussels indicate good water quality and wildlife diversity, and mussels help purify the aquatic system by acting as natural filters. They’re also an important food source for otters, herons and some fish.

On the Radio: Iowa lakes undergo restoration projects


A lake near Buena Vista, Iowa. (Flickr)
A lake near Buena Vista, Iowa. (Flickr)

This week’s On the Radio segment highlights the Iowa Department of Natural Resources’ ongoing lake restoration program. Listen to the audio below, or continue reading for the transcript.

 

Transcript: Iowa Lake Restoration Program

The Iowa Department of Natural Resources is cleaning dozens of Iowa lakes this summer as part of its ongoing lake restoration program.

This is the Iowa Environmental Focus.

The Iowa DNR has selected 35 Iowa lakes and watersheds for restoration with the goals of improved water quality, a balanced aquatic community and improved fishing and swimming. Their 2013 report states that many Iowa lakes suffer from excessive algol growth and sedimentation.

The DNR plans to work with local towns and watershed groups to develop action plans, including marsh rehabilitation, wetland reconstruction and lake dredging. Similar projects at Clear Lake, Storm Lake and Lake MacBride have enhanced recreation opportunities, putting them in the top five most visited lakes in the state.

For more information about the Iowa lake restoration program, visit IowaEnvironmentalFocus.org.

From the UI Center for Global and Regional Environmental Research, I’m Jerry Schnoor.

County supervisors: Coralville lake plan is out of date


Coralville Lake. Photo by Alan Light; Flickr
Coralville Lake. Photo by Alan Light; Flickr

According to the Johnson County Board of Supervisors, Coralville Lake’s management plan is in need of an update. They have requested funding from the Army Corps of Engineers in order to research and write a new plan.

The reservoir’s current plan has been in place since 1995, and the Supervisors say that it does not account for new conditions due to climate change. Ideally, local Corps officials would be able to make decisions about water levels without having to wait for federal approval. The discretion to make such decisions without waiting for bureaucracy might have prevented some of the damage done by the flood events of the last decade.

The County Supervisors rely heavily on information provided by the University of Iowa Flood Center (IFC), which monitors local flood conditions. If the management plan is successfully rewritten, the Supervisors could act quickly on IFC information during any future flood situation, and more efficiently handle an emergency situation.